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Long handled cautery, Europe, undated

Bubonic plague causes enlarged glands or buboes on the neck, groin and armpits. The buboes were cauterised in an attempt to prevent larger buboes forming but it probably did not save many lives. (Cauterisation is the use of heat to burn or remove part of the body.) It was thought that the disease spread from human contact, which is why this cautery has a long handle. Bubonic plague is actually transmitted by fleas on rats.

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Glossary: bubo

An inflammation of a lymphatic gland (armpit or groin) commonly found in syphilis or the plague.

Glossary: bubonic plague

Thought to have been the cause of the Black Death, the bubonic plague is caused by a bacterial infection of the lymphatic system, the network of capillary vessels in the human body. The plague is most commonly transmitted via the bites of fleas. Characteristic symptoms include enlarged lymph glands (buboes).

Glossary: cautery

To destroy tissue through contact with a hot implement. To remove warts, etc, or to stop small cuts bleeding.